All this 'passive consumption-bad' 'active engagement-good' argument produces a perverse reaction in me. In my overworked life, sitting through a boring sermon is often the best rest I get. I can let it wash over me, allowing the occasional phrase to spark off a train of thought that has no relation to the sermon itself but which might yield interesting fruit later on.
Like many people, my life feels like an enslavement to doing, which alternative worship makes worse - not inherently I suppose, but because as things are alt worship has to be forced into being by a constant act of will.
On the last day of the St. Paul's Cathedral labyrinth, I managed to snatch a few moments to just lie on my back, looking up into the dome, closing my eyes and letting my thoughts drift in the murmur of the activity around me. I could have spent hours in this profoundly refreshing non-activity. It was, perhaps, what I most needed. and yet I am aware that if I were to lie down in the middle of St. Paul's on a 'normal' day I would draw concerned looks, possibly even the attentions of the staff. "Look at the strange man, mummy. He isn't *doing* anything."
It feels counter-cultural to be still. So counter-cultural, that our churches struggle with it.
People say they need more time and space, and yet they have a short attention span.
How do these relate?
The short attention span is either not heeded [long boring sermons]
or too much heeded [hyperactivity, all-singing all-dancing, worship which assumes that people need to be kept active and busy or they will become bored and drift off]
We need a sufficiently rich environment to stave off boredom, that deals with the brain's tendency to 'chatter' if not sufficiently stimulated [why we do routine work while listening to music on headphones], but richness as an ambient that does not forcibly occupy the centre of consciousness. In fact I suspect that much of our overactivity works the other way, grabbing the centre of our thoughts with one-dimensional shouting that leaves the fringes and underlayers of our minds starving and susceptible to any distraction. And so we simultaneously hunger for space and time [to get away from the shouting], and hunger for distraction [to deal with the gnawing void underneath].
It's like dealing with hunger by eating only sugar.
An NOP poll commissioned by VSO 24th February 2000 contained the question 'What one thing would make your life richer?' In answer, 32% said more time and space.
[It seems to be a natural thing, that while our brains are dealing with a central task they are also monitoring the minutiae of our surroundings for information, or danger. We are designed for a complex natural environment, which man-made environments seldom reproduce, especially if they are designed for 'the task at hand' and unproductive distractions designed out.]